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After Ford testifies she was sexually assaulted, Kavanaugh responds with anger, tears

By Sarah D. Wire, Jennifer Haberkorn, David Lauter and David G. Savage • Updated Sep 28, 2018 at 1:16 AM

WASHINGTON — Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination hung in the balance Thursday night as Republicans calculated whether they had the votes to confirm him following a highly anticipated showdown filled with hours of raw, emotional testimony.

After meeting Thursday night, Republican senators expressed confidence that Kavanaugh would be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a vote Friday morning, but acknowledged the outcome would be close. Preliminary votes by the full Senate are scheduled to begin Saturday, with a final vote next week.

But key members from both parties, whose decisions will likely determine Kavanaugh’s fate, have yet to signal how they will vote, a worrisome sign for Senate Republicans, who, clinging to a narrow majority, hoped to swiftly confirm a staunchly conservative jurist for a lifetime seat on the high court.

The dramatic testimony Thursday by Christine Blasey Ford, the California professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students, threatened to derail the nomination.

Ford told the Senate Judiciary Committee that a drunken Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge locked her in a bedroom during a 1982 gathering and that Kavanaugh tried to rape her.

When asked about her most indelible memory, Ford recalled the “uproarious laughter between the two, and their having fun at my expense.” She told the senators she was “100 percent” certain Kavanaugh was her attacker.

Both Kavanaugh and Judge have denied the allegations.

When it was his turn to testify, Kavanaugh responded with anger and emotion, almost shouting his opening statement and stopping repeatedly to fight back tears and compose himself. Kavanaugh said he had no ill will toward Ford, but denied her allegations.

Echoing now-Justice Clarence Thomas’ condemnation of the “high-tech lynching” he said he had endured during his 1991 confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh called what has happened to him a “national disgrace.”

It was a surprisingly raw display of rage and passion for a judicial nominee, but his supporters said it reflected the heartfelt frustration of a man who thinks he’s been wrongly accused.

“He’s righteously incensed, and I don’t blame him,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Kavanaugh’s sharply partisan complaints were highly unusual for a Supreme Court candidate. He accused Democrats of “lying in wait” to attack him, frequently interrupted and mocked Democratic senators during questioning and attributed his treatment to “revenge on the behalf of the Clintons.” Kavanaugh is a longtime GOP attorney who worked with special counsel Kenneth Starr to investigate former President Bill Clinton.

Noting the Senate’s role in the process of confirming Supreme Court nominees, he said Democrats “have replaced ‘advise and consent’ with ‘search and destroy.’ ”

Marc Short, the Trump administration’s former liaison to Congress, predicted that Kavanaugh’s impassioned testimony would help him win confirmation along party lines.

Trump was glued to the television and heartened by the fiery testimony, aides said. One senior administration official involved in the confirmation process described Kavanaugh’s performance as “powerful … strong … game changing” in a text message.

The president was “happier” to see Kavanaugh defending himself so strongly, another administration official said, as Trump had counseled Kavanaugh to do earlier in the week after the nominee and his wife appeared on Fox News.

Immediately after the hearing, Trump tweeted, “Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!”

Democrats repeatedly pressed Kavanaugh on his reputation for drinking and partying while in high school and college, and tried, without success, to get him to call for an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations. The White House and GOP leaders have said there is no need for the FBI to get involved.

Democrats praised Ford for sharing her story.

“You have given America an amazing teaching moment,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Ford, causing her to choke back tears.

Ford’s combination of emotional fragility — evident in her face and voice — and her precise recall of certain facts and details made the California professor a powerful witness. She had not been seen or heard in public since her story gained the national spotlight two weeks ago.

Ford also described the harassment, death threats and other blowback she has endured since coming forward. “I am here not because I want to be,” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’m terrified.”

She emphasized that she had originally reported the alleged incident to Democratic lawmakers before Kavanaugh was selected by Trump and denied having any political motivations.

As Ford testified, her training as a research psychologist periodically became obvious. Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., about the impact that the alleged attack had on her life, Ford referred to the “sequelae” of the attack, a psychology term that refers to the symptoms that can follow a traumatic event. Ford has a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Southern California.

The sequelae of sexual assault vary from victim to victim, she noted, adding that in her case, she had suffered from “PTSD-like” symptoms, including claustrophobia.

Later, Feinstein asked how she could be sure that it was Kavanaugh who had put his hand over her mouth to prevent her from screaming.

“The same way that I’m sure that I’m talking to you right now,” she responded. “Basic memory function.”

Ford went on to refer to the way neurotransmitters in the brain record memories in the hippocampus, a portion of the brain that plays a central role in human memory.

But her responses were not entirely clinical. Asked by Feinstein if there was a possibility that this could be a case of “mistaken identity,” Ford’s response was simple.

“Absolutely not.”

At times Ford’s California informality, nervousness and lack of experience in public speaking contrasted sharply with the usual stiffness of Senate proceedings in Washington. She joked about needing caffeine, referred to childhood “beach friends,” spoke of her fear of flying and often took deep breaths. At one point she drew sympathetic laughter when she asked for the definition of “exculpatory evidence.”

She said events regarding her coming forward publicly unfolded so quickly this summer that she was interviewing potential attorneys from her car in a Walgreens parking lot while on vacation.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the committee, opened the hearing by apologizing to both Kavanaugh and Ford for the intense media scrutiny and threats they’ve had to endure. He also called on fellow members to maintain civility, but then launched into a partisan attack on how Democrats handled the allegations, which became public days before the committee planned to vote on Kavanaugh.

Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the committee, defended her actions, saying she kept the allegations confidential at the request of Ford. In her opening statement, Ford thanked Feinstein for her discretion. “Sexual assault victims should be able to decide for themselves whether their private experience is made public.”

Some of the most impassioned comments came from the senators themselves, particularly Republicans, who compared Democrats’ efforts to question Kavanaugh about Ford’s allegations to the anti-communist McCarthy hearings in the 1950s.

“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

The committee has 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, and the Republican majority — all of whom are men — recruited Rachel Mitchell, a sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona, to conduct the questioning for them. GOP leaders were anxious to avoid the optics of older, all-male senators grilling Ford, as occurred during the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearing in 1991.

Mitchell’s questioning of Ford was limited to five-minute segments, since she was effectively filling the time afforded to Republican members of the committee. As a result, she frequently had to interrupt her examination, sometimes in the middle of a question, to allow a Democratic lawmaker a turn to ask questions for five minutes.

Mitchell focused largely on exploring how Ford decided to go public with her story, who paid for her polygraph test, who recommended potential attorneys and other details that might bolster Republicans’ claims that Ford was being manipulated by Democrats for political purposes.

But conservative television commentators voiced frustration that Mitchell wasn’t able to undermine Ford’s story, and after Kavanaugh began to testify, Mitchell was largely shunted to the sidelines as Republican senators took over the questioning.

During a break in Ford’s testimony, some Republican lawmakers’ comments inadvertently demonstrated why GOP leaders opted to leave the questioning of Ford to Mitchell.

Asked whether he found Ford credible, Hatch said, “I think she’s an attractive, good witness.” Asked to clarify what he meant by attractive, Hatch added, “In other words, she is pleasing.”

Later, Graham said he felt “ambushed” by the way the assault allegations were raised so late in the confirmation process, a questionable word choice given Ford’s allegation of attempted rape.

“Dr. Ford’s courage is inspiring and I am very grateful to her for coming forward to tell her story, even in the face of deep personal cost,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “She was moving, heartfelt and honest. While I had already decided not to support Judge Kavanaugh based on his history of siding with corporations and Wall Street over workers, Dr. Ford’s testimony today was a powerful moment for our country.”

Generally there were stark differences between the examinations of Ford and Hill, who endured relentless questioning from Republican senators. The late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania accused Hill of committing “flat-out perjury” in her claim that Thomas had sexually harassed her at work.

In the past week, two other women have come forward to lodge similar allegations against Kavanaugh that involve heavy drinking and abusive behavior.

Deborah Ramirez told The New Yorker of a humiliating sexual incident when she was a freshman at Yale and joined a drinking game with several others, including Kavanaugh.

On Wednesday, Julie Swetnick filed a sworn declaration in which she recalled being at several parties where Kavanaugh and Judge were drunk and abused young women who were also drunk. Kavanaugh has denied both accusations.

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(Times staff writers Eli Stokols and Noah Bierman contributed to this report.)

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Emotionally wrenching testimony leaves Senate, and nation, bitterly divided

By David Lauter, Evan Halper and David G. Savage - Los Angeles Times (TNS)

WASHINGTON — If each side had set out to design witnesses who more perfectly embodied the nation’s bitter partisan divide — or could more effectively widen it — they scarcely could have done better than the two who faced off Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Frequently fighting back tears, Christine Blasey Ford described the sexual assault she says she suffered during the summer of 1982, when she was 15, at the hands of a man now nominated to the nation’s highest court. Her anguished testimony made her an Everywoman stand-in for victims of sexual violence. And as a white, female university professor from California, she virtually personified the Democrats’ resistance to President Donald Trump.

In the afternoon, the man she has accused, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, channeled the president who nominated him, delivering a blistering, angry denial in which he repeatedly declared his innocence and portrayed himself as a victim of “a frenzy on the left” born of “pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election” and “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”

At the risk of torching any image of judicial temperament, Kavanaugh interrupted Democratic senators and glared at them, once sitting mutely rather than answer a question. He cast the fight mostly not as one of credibility — his word against Ford’s — but as raw partisan battle. He portrayed himself as the victim of “a calculated and orchestrated political hit” and “grotesque and coordinated character assassination.”

His tight-lipped fury marked a dramatic shift from a genteel performance at his earlier confirmation hearing. But it drew deeply from the well of grievance toward Washington and liberal politicians that has cemented conservative loyalty behind Trump through repeated crises in the three years since he opened his presidential campaign.

Underscoring the implicit demand for tribal unity — and its intended audience — Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of Kavanaugh’s strongest supporters on the committee, nearly shouted at the Senate’s remaining undecided Republicans when his turn came to speak.

“To my Republican colleagues, if you vote no, you’re legitimizing the most despicable thing I have seen in my time in politics,” Graham declared.

Whether the hearing changed any senator’s vote is yet unknown. The committee’s 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats are expected to vote Friday, and the full Senate could begin preliminary votes Saturday.

Only a handful of votes remain uncertain — perhaps three Republicans and a couple of Democrats. But much like the confrontation between professor Anita Hill and Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas before the same committee 27 years ago, the day’s drama seemed all but certain to become a national touchstone.

“This kind of mass national exposure is really unusual,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Think of the very few moments in which a large part of the nation pauses to consume something in common,” she said. “People assume if you were alive and above 15 when the Anita Hill hearing happened, you will remember it, and there is no need to explain what it is. This will also be one of those moments.”

Ford’s testimony revealed her as a naif in the world of politics. From her opening declaration about how terrified she felt at the witness table to her description of trying to interview prospective lawyers from her car parked outside a Walgreen’s drugstore, she appeared as an innocent suddenly parachuted, against her better judgment, into a Washington maelstrom.

“She came across as exactly the kind of witness one would hope she would be,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer, a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law and a former sex-crimes prosecutor. “Helpful, interested in providing the truth, willing to qualify the testimony where she needed to and very much a person doing her duty rather than grinding any ax.

“For survivors of any kind of assault or misconduct there was catharsis in this,” she added. “As difficult and excruciating as it was to see her relive the trauma, she held up incredibly well.”

Indeed, Ford’s soft-stated testimony elicited praise even from many Republican senators.

“I found no reason to find her not credible,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the Senate’s second-ranking Republican.

Kavanaugh, by contrast, made no effort to portray himself as outside the political realm, and he drew a polarized response. Democrats, as well as some nonpartisan observers, took note of the partisan framing of his anger and predicted his comments could leave permanent doubt about his impartiality if he does win confirmation.

“I think he has really raised serious questions about his temperament,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “He has raised threats of conspiracy and shown himself to be hot-headed in a way which really makes it questionable that he can be a fair judge.”

But Kavanaugh’s testimony drew support where it counted most — from the inveterate television watcher in the Oval Office, who cleared much of his calendar to watch the nearly nine-hour proceedings, a day after he seemed to hint that he might be wavering on the nomination.

“Judge Kavanaugh showed America exactly why I nominated him. His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting,” Trump declared in a tweet shortly after Kavanaugh finished.

Conservative defenders of Kavanaugh’s were equally cheered by his partisan fire.

“Kavanaugh is not being withdrawn after this. The Republicans are going to have to confirm him or watch Trump and the GOP voters burn down the remains of the party, deservedly so,” declared Erick Erickson, the conservative commentator.

Before Thursday, many had predicted the hearing would replay the bitter 1991 clash between Hill and Thomas after she had accused him of sexual harassment.

And, indeed, Kavanaugh’s strategy of righteous indignation hewed to Thomas’ declaration that his opponents had engaged in a “high-tech lynching for uppity blacks,” the counterattack that helped save his nomination.

Then as now, the Republican side of the dais consisted entirely of middle-aged white men — a reality that Republicans sought to touch up by hiring a female prosecutor from Arizona, Rachel Mitchell, to question Ford for them.

That effort did little to assuage Democratic anger at the unrepresentative nature of the committee majority.

“The politics on sexual assault has shifted so radically. Yet these Republicans look like Rip Van Winkle, who woke up from a 20-year nap,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, vice president of Third Way, a centrist Democratic policy advocacy group. “It is rage-inducing.”

But the differences between 1991 and 2018 ran deeper than the similarities.

In the 1991 hearing, Republican senators subjected Hill to sharp and relentlessly hostile questions. One, the late Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, accused Hill of having committed perjury. Another, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, who sat on the judiciary panel Thursday along with two other veterans of the earlier battle, suggested Hill had concocted her story from a popular novel.

Democrats, cowed by Thomas’ racially charged defense, mostly played the role of neutral bystanders, unwilling to take sides.

By contrast, in this year’s hearing, Democrats took turns lauding Ford while the Republicans mostly sat silent, at least during Ford’s half of the hearing, turning the duty of asking questions over to Mitchell.

Their disinclination to challenge Ford’s account reflected the huge social change that culminated in the #MeToo movement of the last year, Northwestern professor Tuerkheimer said.

“There is more willingness to believe,” she said. “There is greater peril associated with a reflexive dismissal of a credible woman’s account of sexual violence.”

But while society’s response to sexual assaults has changed over the last generation, the country’s partisan divides have only deepened. Thursday’s hearing, and the contrasting reactions to it, seemed likely to widen the divide further, leaving the process with few defenders.

“It’s depressing watching this because both of these people have been seriously and permanently damaged,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres, who has worked with one of the main conservative groups backing Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

“It reminds me of a Shakesperean tragedy, where everybody dies in the end.”

As the Judiciary Committee’s one member yet to declare how he’ll vote, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., put it: “This is not a good process, but it’s all we’ve got.

“In the end, we are 21 very imperfect senators,” he said. “In the end, there is likely to be as much doubt as certainty going out of this room today … . There is doubt. We’ll never move beyond that.”

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©2018 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Senate Judiciary to vote Friday on Kavanaugh nomination

By Todd Ruger - CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans huddled privately late Thursday and will move forward with a Judiciary Committee vote Friday on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for a seat on the Supreme Court, GOP senators leaving the meeting said.

Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said Republican senators have been told to prepare for a series of procedural votes Saturday to allow a Monday cloture vote on the nomination.

The decision came after almost nine hours of testimony from Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has alleged that Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and covered her mouth as he sexually attacked her at a high school gathering decades ago. Ford is one of several women who have accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

“I think it’s time to vote,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas said before the GOP meeting. “The longer the nomination remains open, we know more and more of these scurrilous, anonymous and uncorroborated allegations will be made.”

Delaware Sen. Chris Coons is one of many committee Democrats who want to delay the vote so that the FBI can look into the allegations.

“I think we owe it to the legitimacy of the Supreme Court, to the reputation of Judge Kavanaugh, and most importantly to a number of women who have come forward with alarming allegations, to actually investigate them thoroughly rather than a one-day hearing with only two sworn witnesses,” Coons said.

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(Niels Lesniewski, Patrick Kelley and Katherine Tully-McManus contributed reporting.)

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©2018 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved

Visit CQ Roll Call at www.rollcall.com

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